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  • Yusif Sayigh: Arab Economist, Palestinian Patriot; A Fractured Life Story ed. by Rosemary Sayigh
  • Hani A. Faris (bio)
Yusif Sayigh: Arab Economist, Palestinian Patriot; A Fractured Life Story, edited by Rosemary Sayigh. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2015. 388 pages. $45.

Yusif Sayigh is a welcome addition to the library on the Middle East and the Palestinian issue. Not only does it enrich our knowledge of Yusif Sayigh, a renowned economist in his own right, it also shines a light on the Sayigh family — a family of mixed Syrian-Palestinian-Lebanese descent — and informs us of their immense contributions to their country, people, and nation.

Scholars of the 20th century Middle East in general, and the Palestinian national movement in particular, would be remiss if they have not read works written by the family of ‘Abdullah Sayigh or, at least, learned of the role the family played in public life. The Sayigh sons founded and administered research centers, think tanks, and scholarly journals, as well as overseeing work on dictionaries and encyclopedias. They penned political programs, national, and regional development plans, excelled in the field of diplomacy, were active in political life and mounted many other ambitious programs.

The Sayigh family valued education above all else as their only means to advancement and success in life. ‘Abdullah Sayigh (1885–1974) and ‘Afifa Batruni (1893–1950), and their family left their mark on modern Arab society. Every one of their six sons1 was a prodigy in his field: Yusif, the economist (1916–2004); Fu’ad, the engineer (1919–59); Fayez, the philosopher, political thinker, and diplomat (1922–80), Tawfiq, the poet and literary figure (1923–71); Munir, the medical doctor (1929–75); and Anis, the historian (1931–2009). Together with their father, they authored more than 50 books and hundreds of book chapters, articles, essays, and reports — of which a good number are regarded as classics.2 Several of them taught in world-famous universities.3 Interestingly, both father and mother excelled in school and were the first in their class when they graduated, and so were the seven siblings. They were all awarded grants and scholarships to pursue their studies at all levels of their education. Without their outstanding scholastic performance, the limited financial means of the family would have inhibited them from attaining their educational ambitions. [End Page 162]

Although the intellectual output and professional achievements of the Sayigh brothers brought them recognition and renown, little was known about their family history, inter-family relationships, personalities, and private lives. The father had written Dhikrayati [My Recollections] late in life, but they remain mostly unknown because the elder son confiscated practically all of the printed copies (p. 239).4 Only Anis provided an account of the early life of the family, which he covered in the first chapter of his memoirs.5 Now, thanks to Yusif’s wife Rosemary, we have a thorough, informative, dependable, rich and authoritative memoir that brings insight into the life of both Yusif and his family. As the editor says: “This is as much a family story as it is the story of Yusif Sayigh” (p. 3).

The memoirs stand out in two areas. Firstly, they provide an invaluable chronicle of the three towns the Sayighs lived in during their early years: Kharaba in the southern Syrian district of Hawran (1918–25), the Palestinian village of Bassa near the Lebanese border (1925–30), and Tiberias (1930–48). The accounts are rich and detailed, colorful and informative. The people, economy, commerce, agriculture, social relations, religious composition, inter-religious and intra-sectarian relations, gender relations, women’s status, educational institutions, literacy levels, politics, village administration, relations with regional neighbors, colorful figures in the community, as well as the life of the Sayigh family and its members, are skillfully interwoven and present a vivid picture and a historical record of life in Syrian and Palestinian towns in the first half of the 20th century. Rosemary, the editor, who is an accomplished anthropologist, did a commendable job.

The memoirs are also prominent in another area. They offer a narrative of Yusif’s involvement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the inner...


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